The Patriots only have one more preseason game left on their docket, with New England set to head to Tennessee later this week to take on the Titans on Friday night.
With preseason bouts starting to wind down and roster cuts on the horizon, here’s a look at who is rising and falling on New England’s depth chart.
WR Kendrick Bourne
At one point early in training camp, Bourne looked like a potential roster-bubble candidate.
After a disappointing 2022 season in which he was largely phased out of New England’s offensive scheme, Bourne opened camp with limited touches during his first-team reps with Mac Jones.
Add in the strides put forth by rookies in Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte, and Bourne ran the risk of being on the outside looking in at Bill O’Brien’s revamped offense.
But give credit where it’s due. After a slow start, a motivated Bourne is looking more and more like a difference-maker for New England.
The 28-year-old wideout — who accrued 800 receiving yards during Jones’s rookie season in 2021 — caught three passes from Jones for 34 yards during Saturday’s preseason contest against the Packers.
Bourne helped New England gain a first down by reeling in a quick pass off a slant route during one of New England’s run-pass option plays. He later hauled down a high throw from Jones for another first-down conversion while Jones faced plenty of pressure.
Bourne will also likely earn plenty of kudos from New England’s coaching staff for doling out this block that led to a 23-yard run from Rhamondre Stevenson.
If Bourne can revert back to the player that was once one of Jones’s most dependable targets, an already rejuvenated Patriots offense should receive another shot in the arm.
“He had a good spring,” Bill Belichick said of Bourne on Monday. “That spring led into having a good training camp. He’s done very well in all phases of the game. He’s played multiple spots, caught the ball well, blocked well. He’s had a good camp.”
S Jalen Mills
The Patriots can’t just turn to one player to account for the loss of Devin McCourty in the defensive backfield.
But as New England continues to cycle in multiple contributors in their secondary, veteran Jalen Mills continues to impress as he shifts back from cornerback to his familiar position of safety.
Mills has seen plenty of snaps so far during preseason play as a nickel on New England’s defense, with the 29-year-old making the most of the extra freedom he gets when the ball is snapped.
He has the on-field awareness and speed to close in on opposing wideouts and pluck passes out of the air, as was the case against C.J. Stroud during New England’s preseason opener against the Texans.
But Mills has also shown a knack for adding some extra thump against the run. In both of his appearances so far this preseason, he has negated some potential chunk yardage on the ground by way of a few timely tackles.
Mills should continue to impress in a revamped secondary that is also seeing other players like Jabrill Peppers and Kyle Dugger continue to take positive steps forward.
OL Riley Reiff
It hasn’t been the best start for Reiff in his first season in New England, with the 34-year-old veteran struggling at times in his regular spot at tackle during camp and preseason action.
But on another night where New England’s O-line was prone to some momentum-sapping miscues, Reiff was steady in his new role at right guard during Saturday’s preseason matchup.
According to Pro Football Focus’ Louie Benjamin, Reiff logged 31 snaps against the Packers and did not surrender a pressure or get beat.
Yes, Reiff was signed by New England in hopes of either shoring up the team’s vacancy at right tackle or, at the very least, serving as much-needed insurance as a primary backup on the outside of the Patriots’ O-line.
But as New England tries to put together the jigsaw puzzle that is its starting O-line, Reiff’s promising showing at RG at least gives the team options.
When Mike Onwenu does return from the PUP list, slotting him over at right tackle might give New England its best five-man unit in Trent Brown (LT), Cole Strange (LG), David Andrews (C), Reiff (RG) and Onwenu.
P Bryce Baringer
Much like fellow rookie Chad Ryland, Baringer likely has a leg up in his special-teams competition with a veteran (Corliss Waitman) thanks to the strength in his leg.
But Baringer’s chances of snagging New England’s starting punter spot took a slight hit earlier this week after a few so-so performances during joint practices against the Packers.
But some of those concerns were alleviated on Saturday night, as Baringer absolutely booted a few balls and routinely pinned Green Bay way back in its own zone.
In total, Baringer’s two punts on Saturday traveled a combined 120 yards.
His first attempt sailed 59 yards and landed on the Packers’ 14-yard line. His second offering went 61 yards, with Samori Toure snagging it at the 14-yard line. Toure only made it three yards before Patriots special-teams regular Brenden Schooler took him down.
Those practice miscues won’t mean all that much for Baringer if he continues to blast the ball far down the gridiron.
Honorable Mentions: J.J. Taylor, Christian Gonzalez, Myles Bryant, Kayshon Boutte
New England’s younger offensive linemen
Yes, perhaps it’s a cop-out in casting a wide net with this “down” designation.
But as Belichick, Adrian Klemm and the rest of New England’s coaching staff continue to search for viable backup options on the O-line, the team’s large grouping of first and second-year players haven’t exactly made the most of their reps.
Two of Mac Jones’s three drives on Saturday night in Lambeau Field were undone by porous pass protection that resulted in sacks.
Second-year pro Andrew Stueber surrendered the most costly miscue during Jones’s reps. Slotting in for Brown at left tackle, Steuber was beat clean by Packers linebacker Kingsley Enagbare on one snap, with Enagbare taking down Jones for a strip sack. Green Bay recovered the ball, ending Jones’s night on a poor note.
Rookie Sidy Sow, already handed the tough task of switching from guard to tackle up at the NFL ranks, was also beat by Enagbare earlier in the game.
With New England looking to extend a drive on a third-and-9 situation, Engabare powered through Sow with one arm en route to a takedown of Jones that forced a punt.
Yes, it’s to be expected for younger players like Sow to take their lumps during their first reps against NFL opponents.
Still, this early play from New England’s O-line reserves further stresses just how catastrophic things could get for the Patriots if any of their expected starters are forced to miss significant time during regular-season action.
RB Kevin Harris
The arrival of Ezekiel Elliott might make several other Patriots running backs expendable over the next few weeks.
Before New England opted to sign Elliott to a one-year deal, the Patriots turned to second-year backs in Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong during training camp in order to see if either player could step in behind Stevenson on the depth chart.
So far, those results have been underwhelming. And while Strong is currently sidelined due to a reported concussion, Harris hasn’t popped so far during preseason action this summer. The 2022 sixth-round pick led the Patriots with 10 rushing attempts on Saturday, but only averaged 3.1 yards per carry.
The strong play of J.J. Taylor in Green Bay (four rushes for 29 yards, three receptions for 27 yards) could lead to the 5-foot-6 running back leapfrogging players like Harris on the depth chart.
With Elliott adding some much-needed pass-catching capabilities to New England’s running-back corps, a veteran like Ty Montgomery (sidelined for most of camp due to injury) could also find himself on the roster bubble.
DT Sam Roberts
The second-year defensive tackle out of Northwest Missouri State was already on the roster bubble this week, due in part to the depth New England already boasts across its D-line.
But Roberts’s undisciplined play certainly won’t help his case of trying to make the 53-man roster in the coming weeks.
Despite a few solid plays against the run, Roberts hampered his team with two costly penalties on Saturday.
While Packers QB Jordan Love slid at the end of a scramble play, Roberts landed atop him in an undisciplined (and dangerous) move, costing New England an additional 15 yards. Roberts was later whistled for illegal use of hands.
There’s still plenty to like about what Roberts can bring to a game as a thumper in the trenches. But given the number of veterans in front of him, Roberts was going to have to put his best foot forward throughout this preseason slate. Saturday’s decision-making didn’t help him at all.
LB Mack Wilson
Even though New England opened Saturday’s game with several of their starters on defense taking the field, the results were very mixed.
Despite recovering a fumble on Green Bay’s first drive (a self-inflicted miscue by Love), New England’s defense was diced up at various points by the Packers.
Granted, Love delivered some impressive throws against tight coverage. But New England has little excuse for the poor run defense they displayed up front. In the first quarter alone, Green Bay averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
Established veterans like Davon Godchaux likely didn’t enjoy the film session following Saturday’s game, but New England’s linebackers like Mack Wilson really struggled to jump in as the next layer of defense in the trenches.
We’re still waiting for rookie Marte Mapu to take to the field in a game setting, but New England’s linebacker depth is awfully thin when Ja’Whaun Bentley is not out there running the show.
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